Two trains full of military vehicles are expected to soon pull into Prescott, prompting the Canadian Army to issue a notice that the arrival of the equipment is part of the process in returning gear from a cancelled training exercise out west.
With its notice, the army is trying to head off conspiracy theorists who have tried to link the ongoing transportation of military equipment to claims the federal government is about to call in the Canadian Forces because of novel coronavirus.
“There is no cause for alarm (as) these movements by rail and the ensuing ground convoys from railheads to final destinations is how we normally move our vehicles over long distances for major exercises such as Ex Maple Resolve which as you know we recently decided to cancel,” said army spokesman Lt.-Col. Doug MacNair.
Maple Resolve was scheduled to take place from May 11 to 24 in Wainwright, Alta., but was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exercise normally involves approximately 5,000 personnel and 1,450 pieces of major equipment.
The equipment on the trains arriving in Prescott will be unloaded and transferred by road to Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.
Video of military vehicles being transported back by train from Maple Resolve made the rounds on social media on the weekend, prompting concerns from some that the Canadian Forces was mobilizing because of COVID-19.
Movement of U.S. army equipment by rail for exercises or transfer from factories to bases has also prompted concerns on social media that the American government is going to declare martial law.
MacNair said one of the trains with Maple Resolve equipment was to leave Wainwright on Wednesday for Prescott. The second will leave March 30.
The trains are loaded with about 130 military trucks and armoured vehicles.
Department of National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said there has been instances of disinformation on social media involving the movement of military equipment in both Quebec and Ontario.
“The risks and impacts of misinformation during this critical period are real and need close and careful monitoring,” he noted in a statement. “While it is normal and expected that the public are, at this time, far more sensitive to the public environment, the viral propagation of inaccurate or decontextualized content could lead to confusion or impact efforts to flatten the curve.”
Le Bouthillier said the Canadian Forces and the DND are relying heavily on legitimate news organizations in reporting the facts.
The Canadian Forces could be eventually called upon by the federal government to provide support if the pandemic worsens.
“Should assistance from the Canadian Army be requested to support the COVID-19 outbreak, Canadians should rest assured that our help will be in the form that Canadians are used to when we assist authorities with natural disasters such as flood and fires, we will lend a helping hand,” explained MacNair.
Like other organizations, the Canadian Forces has been taking measures to limit exposure of personnel to COVID-19. Military training schools in Borden, Ont., and other locations are being closed.
The Canadian Forces also announced Tuesday that officer cadets at its universities in Kingston and Saint-Jean, Que., were being sent home. They will complete their studies online.
COVID-19 has also caused the cancellation or postponement of a number of naval exercises and operations. HMCS Glace Bay and HMCS Shawinigan, which were to take part in naval training off the coast of Africa, are now returning to Halifax. The ships are expected to arrive in mid-April.
HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Whitehorse are cutting short their participation in U.S.-led counter-drug operations. The ships were originally set to return to Canada in mid-May but are now expected to arrive in early April.
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